By Rumina Awal

17 August 2015 - 09:28

'[F]or 700 million people globally, poor vision is still a fact of life.'
'For 700 million people globally, poor vision is still a fact of life.' Photo ©

AMISOM Public Information, licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0 and adapted from the original.

How can mobile technology diagnose eye disorders? Rumina Awal, a UK student interning for social enterprise EyeCheck in Canada as part of a British Council exchange programme, looks at the latest developments.

The 21st century has brought with it the most advanced medical technology the world has ever known. Yet much of it is not available to those in developing countries. This is especially true in the case of eye treatment.

One problem is that people in the developing world have far less access to eye care services, and the benefits that accompany modern medical advancements. In addition, the procedure and tools used in vision screening in the developing world have not changed in decades.

The result is that, for 700 million people globally, poor vision is still a fact of life. This is all the more startling when we consider that 80 per cent of all visual impairment is preventable or can be cured.

There is hope, however, as the technology used for eye treatment is quickly evolving in an attempt to deliver eye exams in places where optometry care is hard to come by. Although new procedures and techniques are still in the early stages, they are already making a difference, and may become future standards in improving global eye healthcare.

The use of hand-held devices

One way to speed up the screening process is to use a simple, portable and accurate hardware device. EyeCheck is a social enterprise that has developed such a device, allowing optometrists to determine if glasses are needed, or if more serious conditions are present.

It works by first shining a light into a patient’s eye and then capturing an image of their retina. The image is then analysed using image-processing software embedded into the hardware device. From this analysis, it's possible to detect other eye health issues such as cataracts.

Creating digital snapshots of the eye

Similarly, researchers at the Camera Culture Group have designed the eyeSelfie, an inexpensive hand-held device for taking a photograph of the retina, the optic nerve, and the vasculature. Digital snapshots of the interior of the eye can help physicians detect and treat vision-threatening diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy early.

New research indicates that these snapshots can also help to identify risk factors for hypertension, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and even Alzheimer's disease.

Using a smartphone app

Peek, another social enterprise, turns a smartphone into a comprehensive eye exam tool. It works by using a lens adapter that slips over the in-built camera on a smartphone. Used with the Peek app, the practitioner holds the phone close to someone’s eye to provide a high-resolution image of the retina on screen.

The high image quality means practitioners can diagnose various eye conditions and other health problems, such as severe high blood pressure and diabetes.

The use of clinically accurate hand-held technology will make vision screening more accurate and affordable, and quicker than ever before.

Rumina Awal is an intern with EyeCheck, a social enterprise that aims to provide low-cost vision care to millions of people in the developing world.

Find out how undergraduate students from Canada and the UK are gaining valuable overseas experience, and connecting with peers.

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